Detoxing from Alcohol

Detox is the second stage of the alcohol rehab process. During detox in a rehab facility, you’ll be closely monitored in a safe environment. You will receive fluids and nutritional supplements, and your doctor may prescribe medications to ease withdrawal symptoms.
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People who are dependent on or addicted to alcohol should detox in a rehab facility. It’s possible to safely detox from alcohol at home, but detoxing is risky for people who experience withdrawal when they quit drinking.

Some alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures and delirium tremens, also known as DTs, can be deadly. Detoxing at a certified rehab facility ensures that you’ll be able to get through alcohol withdrawal safely.


Nanci Stockwell of Advanced Recovery Systems describes the advantages of receiving medically assisted detox for addiction to alcohol and other drugs.

During the first phase of alcohol rehab, the assessment phase, doctors determine the severity of your alcohol addiction. Some rehab centers or referral services will provide an over-the-phone assessment if you call a hotline for alcoholism. But a more comprehensive assessment will be performed when you arrive at the center. Then you’ll transition into detox.

Supportive Care During Your Detox from Alcohol

Supportive care treats health conditions that commonly occur in people with alcoholism, such as irregular heartbeat, liver problems, pancreas problems and other alcohol-related diseases. During detox, your treatment team will make sure important organs continue to function during withdrawal.

Nurses will monitor your vital signs and provide nutritional supplements throughout detox. They’ll also treat vitamin deficiencies and dehydration to prevent a number of complications that commonly occur during unsupervised alcohol withdrawal.

Other aspects of supportive care include providing a comfortable and quiet environment. Low lighting, privacy and encouragement can make patients more comfortable during the detox process. Physicians might also craft an alcohol detox diet plan when you are stable enough to eat.

Medications for Alcohol Withdrawal

The Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved medications specifically for alcohol detox. Most medications for alcoholism are used during the counseling phase of rehab.

However, some medications are recommended for people who are likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms.

Medications used during alcohol detox include:

  • Benzodiazepines (Valium, Ativan)
  • Adrenergic medications (Catapres, Precedex)
  • Anticonvulsants (Tegretol, Depakene)

Antipsychotics, such as Haldol, have been used to treat some symptoms of DTs, but they may also increase the risk of seizures, according to an article by Drs. Hugh Myrick and Raymond Anton published in the journal Alcohol Health & Research World.

The treatment team may administer other common medications to treat complications of alcohol withdrawal, such as nausea, vomiting, fever or headache.

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Withdrawal Complications During Detox

Alcohol withdrawal is a dangerous medical condition caused by abruptly stopping alcohol consumption after a period of heavy drinking. In addition to common alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures and delirium tremens, a number of complications can occur.

Other complications that can occur during alcohol detox include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep problems
  • Hallucinations
  • Heart problems
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is caused by a deficiency in the vitamin thiamine, which is a common problem among alcoholics. The syndrome can cause confusion, vision problems, memory loss and hallucinations. It isn’t caused by alcohol withdrawal, but it can occur during the detox process if a person doesn’t receive adequate nutrition.

Learn more about how proper nutrition can aid recovery

How Long Does It Take to Detox from Alcohol?

The length of detox is determined by a number of factors, including a person’s height, weight, age and overall health. The biggest factors are how long you’ve been drinking and how much you drink each day. People with severe alcohol addiction will spend longer in detox than people with less severe addictions.

On average, the length of alcohol detox is between five and seven days. The worst withdrawal symptoms usually start within eight hours of a person’s last drink. The symptoms peak around the third day of detox, and most people complete detox within a week.

After detox, you should begin alcohol counseling. Detox helps you overcome withdrawal, but counseling and therapy help you overcome underlying causes of addiction. After you complete detox and you progress through rehab, you’ll begin to experience the benefits of quitting alcohol.

Chris Elkins, MA
Senior Content Writer,
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.
Medical Reviewer
Ashraf Ali
Psychiatrist, Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health

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